Animal hair allergy, its symptoms, causes and treatment

Allergic reactions to pet hair are very common. Within minutes of contact with an animal, a runny nose, red eyes, cough or skin rash may appear. In recent years the incidence of this type of allergy has increased.  It affects between 20 and 30% of the population. How can these allergies be explained? How are they treated?

After first contact with an allergen, the latter penetrates the respiratory tract and sensitizes a person’s immune system. The immune system begins to defend itself against a seemingly harmless substance. Subsequent contacts may cause more pronounced symptoms.

The time it takes for a child to become sensitive to an allergen varies from the age of 6 months to 4 years. Occasional contact with an animal seems to be more “sensitizing” than constant contact. Sensitization can occur in the absence of direct contact with the animal, through clothing or furniture.

There are several categories of allergens. Among them are pneumoallergens or aeroallergens, which enter the body through the air and respiratory tract. The most common are dust mites, animals, pollen and mold.


Causes and risk factors

Allergens are small proteins excreted by animals and are present in all body fluids: tears, saliva, urine, anal glands, sebaceous glands, etc.


Two conditions are necessary for allergies to occur:

  • Exposure to an allergen.
  • Genetic predisposition.

Nowadays, animals are more likely to live in urban apartments, which explains the increase in the frequency of animal allergies.


Animals that cause allergies :

  1. Cats: the main allergen is found in the saliva that cats put on their fur when they lick themselves;
  2. Dogs: they are known to be less allergenic than cats;
  3. Horses: dead skin cells and horse hair are strong allergens;
  4. Cattle: dander, nails, hair, urine and saliva are major allergens of cattle. Sheep wool, sheep skins, skin and bovine dander can also cause allergic reactions;
  5. Rabbits and rodents.
  6. Birds and, in particular, their droppings
  7. Insects (cockroaches, fleas, ticks). Stinging insects (bees, wasps, hornets) can cause serious allergic reactions.

Children in direct contact with pets most often suffer. Animal allergies are a frequent cause of chronic respiratory tract infections (colds, bronchitis) or asthma in children.


Symptoms of allergies :

Allergies can manifest as skin, respiratory or general signs (anaphylactic shock), which is the extreme manifestation of an allergic reaction.

A few minutes after contact with an animal the following may occur :

Nasal discharge, red eyes, cough, or skin signs (eczema, urticaria).

More serious symptoms are also possible: asthma attack; quincke’s edema with swelling of the face and respiratory tract, which can lead to death by suffocation.


Allergen Screening Examination

The examination includes a detailed history taking, including the patient’s account of symptoms, what causes them, family history, environment, lifestyle, etc.

This is followed by lulatory tests :

1. Skin tests – skin is lightly incised and injected with a small amount of common allergens that minimally reproduce the cutaneous manifestations of the allergy;

2. Blood tests. It allows you to confirm the identity of the allergens detected by skin tests or in cases where the latter cannot be performed.


Treatment of animal allergy

The first step is to eliminate the animal causing the allergy from the allergic person. If this is not possible, desensitization may be recommended, which involves gradually accustoming the body to a given allergen by administering increasing doses of the allergen orally, using allergen drops.

Allergen extracts in liquid form should be placed under the tongue for two minutes. The treatment consists of one intake a day every day for several years: 3 or even 4 or 5 years. Necessary improvement is felt between 6 and 12 months. Side effects are minimal, but some patients may experience tingling under the tongue and swelling of the mucosa, but this is temporary. The fluid is then spit out.

The protective effect of desensitization usually lasts for several years after treatment is discontinued.

Anti-allergy medications may also be prescribed. You can take antihistamines, eye drops, or nasal drops as supplements. For example, if a child with allergies goes on vacation to grandparents who have a pet, they can take antihistamines the day before they leave and daily for the duration of their stay.


Ideally, it is best to stay away from an animal that causes allergies. If this is not possible and a person comes into contact with the animal, a few guidelines can prevent an allergic attack:

  • Wash your hands after petting your pet;
  • Avoid carpets, pillows, stuffed toys, and any other coatings that can pick up allergens;
  • Vacuum your home regularly, wash linens at a high temperature, and use protective covers;
  • Air the house frequently.
  • It is extremely important not to allow a pet to enter the allergic person’s room or climb on sofas. In the case of a cat or dog allergy, the pet can be washed or wiped down its fur with a damp flannel, thus removing surface allergens. This is repeated about once a week.

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